This week ends The United States annual celebration of Black History Month. As such, several fundamental questions still linger. What is freedom? Who is truly free? The sixteenth president of the United States, Abraham Lincoln issued the emancipation proclamation in 1863. Since then the question of freedom has been through many phases in America.
For those freed by the emancipation proclamation, freedom meant no longer being forced into fields, working their fingers to the bone. It also meant an end to the savagery that came along with the American slave trade. No longer would families be separated at auction blocks, never to see their loved ones again. This also meant that men and women were able to create townships that were comprised predominantly of freed slaves and those effected by the slave trade. These early townships were complete with banks, schools, churches, and hospitals. By the late 1800’s those free people had created fruitful towns like Wilmington, N.C., which was considered to be a metropolis, prior to an 1898 race riot that decimated the town and forced many of its prominent residents to seek a home elsewhere. One of the most famous towns known as “Black Wall Street” arose in Tulsa, Oklahoma. In 1921 a race riot broke out in that town that left an estimated 3,000 African-Americans dead. Throughout the last century race, economics, and the concept of freedom have all been almost at constant odds.
By the mid 1900’s freedom had taken the form of the Civil Rights movement. African-Americans fought for equality, desegregation, and voter rights among many other things. Groups like the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense were created with the mindset that freedom could not be achieved without the freedom for African-Americans to control their own destinies. Other groups such as the American Indian Movement were also establishing their voice after being founded in 1968. In 1969, a group known as Indians of All Tribes occupied Alcatraz for over a year citing the Treaty of Fort Laramie. The brazen move was their way of establishing the return of Native lands taken by the United States government. Many of the lands defined in the treaty are in the area of what is now known as Standing Rock Reservation. In recent years, Standing Rock has been the center of a heated battle over a proposed pipeline which would run through the Dakotas.
Beyond the fight for freedom for races, there has also been freedom fighting for genders, and cultures. The late 1800’s saw the birth of the Women’s Rights movement. Their mission was to fight for the freedom for women to vote, among other things. Today that fight has transcended to the fight to stop human trafficking, the sex trade, and child labor. The definition of freedom which is stated as “the absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action” is being highlighted next month as part of “My Freedom Day” events planned for March 14, 2017. The events will focus on modern slavery and are asking people to speak about their personal interpretations of what true freedom is.